Since writing 35hunter, I’ve been all in favour of proclaiming the affordability of shooting film, and hopefully puncturing some myths that it’s an expensive and exclusive hobby only for the well heeled.
So why do I now seem to be suggesting that this affordability of film photography is false?
It all comes down to my own story.
I’ll try to keep it short, but detailed enough to give you enough insight that you might avoid some of the pitfalls yourself.
In those posts linked to above I talked about one cheap body and one cheap lens to get going, then using cheap film and processing.
Take the £12 example as a starting point, which bought me a Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58/2 M42 lens, M42 to EOS adapter and a couple of rolls of AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200.
If we assume buying a film and having it processed is around £5, and that we shoot a roll of film a week, this adds up to 52 x £5 + the initial £12 outlay, a total of £272.
Divide by 12 and we have a hobby that costs a shade under £23 a month. Within the realms of affordability for most of us.
Especially when I consider people I know who spend double that every month on gym membership, or a satellite/cable TV subscription. Or more than that on coffee every single week.
It’s very little to pay for such a vital passion as ours.
The problems for me started when I realised just how affordable it all was.
My inner bargain hunter / thrift seeker / cheapskate / Scrooge revelled in this heady excitement and the fact that beautiful vintage lenses and cameras could be mine for a few pounds.
All kinds of weird and wonderful expired film could also be mine for a few pounds too. Plus it was usually cheaper bought in bulk lots of four or eight or 28 rolls.
So £5 here, £12 there, occasionally £20 elsewhere, and certainly more than a few 99p triumphs, all seemed innocuous, bargain purchases in isolation.
But then one day I realised I’d hoarded not just one or two bargains, but one or two dozen.
Some days later still, I decided to lay it all out together to see the full damage (it’s amazing how much you can cram in boxes), and realised I had close to 60 cameras and maybe another 20 lenses.
Estimating that each camera/lens probably cost on average £15, and that I had around 80 in total, the maths was rather frightening. 15 x 80 = £1200.
Now I didn’t spend this all at once of course. But if I’d bought just that one shoestring camera and lens for £12, I’d still have nearly all of that £1200 left over the same period.
Plus arguably I’d be more focused on the real purpose on why I photograph with less options to distract and confuse me.
Looking at it another way, there isn’t a dream camera (for me) I’m aware of that I could have mine for maybe £500, let alone £1200.
I could have bought that Contax S2b and a couple of Zeiss lenses. Or even one of those German L cameras.
Or spent it on trips to new places that would have given me fresh inspiration, or a couple of handfuls of books by some of the photography greats of the past. Or, at that £23 a month, funded over four years of buying and processing film.
£1200 goes a long way in this hobby.
On reflection now, I don’t have any major regrets.
I’ve sold a lot of the stuff I bought, and rarely lost money, often making a decent profit.
I am the photographer I am today, with the experience I have, because of the paths I’ve chosen in the last ten year or so.
However, if I was starting again now, I would not have bought so so many cameras and lenses that ultimately all do much the same thing.
I’m still looking for ways to simplify, and cut through to the raw essence of photography.
My entire photographic arsenal now fills three small shelves in a bookcase. But what if it could fill just two. Or just one? Or just my pocket or the palm of my hand?
This reducing in itself can be just as dangerous and addictive.
I’m currently thinking of thinning my digital kit (I’m not quite ready to rely just on my iPhone though I do enjoy it more than ever) by buying an older 8 or 10MP CCD Ricoh GRD compact to use as my main camera, replacing both the iPhone, my DLSRs, and the NEX for most occasions.
Which of course costs an initial outlay, even if I could get it back by selling what it might replace afterwards.
Back to the pint of writing and sharing this post. If I was to advise anyone starting out with film (or anyone trying to reduce their film photography kit), I would still point them to a simple, cheap set up.
Like that Canon EOS and Helios lens, or a Spotmatic and Takumar or a Pentax M or A body with an M or A series lens.
More importantly, I’d further suggest they stick to it – focus on mastering that one set up, shooting lots of film (of the same type) and getting to know their equipment, and themselves as a photographer.
More stuff and more choice is just an unnecessary distraction from this invaluable journey.
Have you fallen into to the false affordability of film trap yourself? Please tell us about it in the comments below.
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